Thursday, July 10, 2008

How Can You Stand It In Family Court?

As a divorce attorney, I sometimes ask myself, and I am sometimes asked by my clients, this very good question: How can you do this family law litigation every day?

Shortly after I read John Bolch's recent Family Lore entry posing this question, I found myself outside a divorce courtroom and suddenly called a "douchebag" by an irate husband. He called me this in the presence of his own lawyer and his wife, who was my client. The husband's lawyer and I had been having a calm, rational discussion, when suddenly the man stormed off and called me a douchebag.

My response? I actually smiled as I looked at opposing counsel, who seemed appropriately embarrassed by his client's sudden outburst. I then asked the other attorney, "Did you hear what your client just said?" No response. We quickly moved on. Back to business.

Parties to disputes sometimes say horrible things to the opposing parties and to the opposing attorneys, and occasionally even to judges as well. Incidents like this don't affect every attorney on every day in family court. But I would venture to say that an incident somewhat like the one I recently experienced does happen every day in each and every family courthouse I know, involving at least one divorce lawyer. When these things happen, and they have happened to most if not all of us divorce litigators, it is our job as lawyers to keep our cool. We as lawyers had better not respond in kind to any such taunts, threats or verbal assaults - or worse yet, take it up a notch and get physical.

And although we are indeed required to keep our cool, I was not too surprised to read the following article yesterday by Dianne Williamson, Divorce Court: He said, he said, in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette reporting on an apparent incident in one of the family courts where I regularly appear. Read the piece. Wow, what testosterone! This reads more like a story about barely grown, drunken dads fighting at their kids' hockey game, than about mature, respected professional men in suits in a courthouse. The facts, of course, are in dispute, but there's little doubt there was an altercation and it is likely that both a litigant and a lawyer were out of line, possibly way out of line.

For every story like this that makes the news, I bet there are dozens of similar stories you will never read. And given what is at stake in divorce and family law disputes, I sometimes wonder why we don't all witness more of such incidents.

A criminal defense attorney once questioned how I could possibly stand it in family court, and then he said to me, "If I had to go into probate [and family] court, I might have to kill someone." Of course these words should not be taken literally, or too seriously. They were spoken in a restaurant and after the consumption of a few drinks. However, his words do indicate he well knows he has no business being in family court, and that's why he stays out.

Some attorneys, probably most in fact, and even many very good civil and criminal litigators, just can't stand the heat of family court and should stay out for their own good, and for the good of their clients. Litigation is by its very nature contentious. But there is just nothing quite like the heat of family court.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.


John Bolch said...

Well, I've been called a few things, but never a 'douchebag'! ;-)

Unknown said...

Nor had I, until this. I hadn't even heard that word in a long time. Reminds me of high school.